“I think the winter has set in;” and Mr. Delancy turned his ear toward the window, against which the snow and hail were beating with violence. “It’s a pity Hartley didn’t come up with you.”
A sober hue came over the face of Irene. This did not escape the notice of her father; but it was natural that she should feel sober in thinking of her husband as likely to be kept from her by the storm. That such were her thoughts her words made evident, for she said, glancing toward the window—
“If there should be a deep snow, and the boats stop running, how can Hartley reach here in time?”
On the next morning the sun rose bright and warm for the season. Several inches of snow had fallen, giving to the landscape a wintry whiteness, but the wind was coming in from the south, genial as spring. Before night half the snowy covering was gone.
“We had our fears for nothing,” said Mr. Delancy, on the second day, which was as mild as the preceding one. “All things promise well. I saw the boats go down as usual; so the river is open still.”
Irene did not reply. Mr. Delancy looked at her curiously, but her face was partly turned away and he did not get its true expression.
The twenty-fourth came. No letter had been received by Irene, nor had she written to New York since her arrival at Ivy Cliff.
“Isn’t it singular that you don’t get a letter from Hartley?” said Mr. Delancy.
Irene had been sitting silent for some time when her father made this remark.
“He is very busy,” she said, in reply.
“That’s no excuse. A man is never too busy to write to his absent wife.”
“I haven’t expected a letter, and so am not disappointed. But he’s on his way, no doubt. How soon will the boat arrive?”
“Between two and three o’clock.”
“And it’s now ten.”
The hours passed on, and the time of arrival came. The windows of Irene’s chamber looked toward the river, and she was standing at one of them alone when the boat came in sight. Her face was almost colorless, and contracted by an expression of deep anxiety. She remained on her feet for the half hour that intervened before the boat could reach the landing. It was not the first time that she had watched there, in the excitement of doubt and fear, for the same form her eyes were now straining themselves to see.
The shrill sound of escaping steam ceased to quiver on the air, and in a few minutes the boat shot forward into view and went gliding up the river. Irene scarcely breathed, as she stood, with colorless face, parted lips and eager eyes, looking down the road that led to the landing. But she looked in vain; the form of her husband did not appear—and it was Christmas Eve!
What did it mean?
YES, what did it mean? Christmas Eve, and Hartley still absent?